My worn out travel diary that I have carried with me to record the things I never wanted to forget beckoned to me as I began packing for this last excursion to France. For over 20 years, I have written sometimes a page or more whenever I left the place I called home. Rarely I would re-read what I had written previously. What would I find in the places that I explored so long ago? When I arrived in the city of Arles, France a few weeks ago, the ancient sycamores with their pealing, white bark looked ghost-like as they lined the road leading to the place we all called our home for many nights. A large group of horses resident in the fields along the entryway were always there to greet us as we went exploring in our rental car. One particular sunny morning after a blustery day and night of rain, all the youngest horses were laying on the ground asleep in the sun, looking like a deep, golden rust-covered carpet. Each beautiful young one laying directly under their tall mothers, who were all standing close together with watchful eyes in a beautiful sea of green. Each one of the mature brown, white and multi-colored horses had a clipped mane and partially shaved tail, so short that the hair stood up, and each one wore a leather bridle with a large bell dangling underneath. This area of France is known as the Carmargue. The land area is very flat, and because of its rich soil, it historically was noted for growing the best grass in all of France. With our close proximity to the Mediterranean, large flocks of interesting birds where seen feeding in the fields near to the horses.
A person I had become “friends” with before this trip on Facebook lives in Arles, France and we got to meet one another in person and became real friends. She graciously showed us her city and country from a viewpoint of a local person, and that made our time there so much more full and interesting. In all my years of writing in my diary, I would have never thought that kind of opportunity to connect with someone before I ever left home could happen as it did. The world is changing in dynamic ways. Her knowledge of the French language was so important in several circumstances while we were there. One time I will not forget is when the owner of the establishment where we were staying became very angry, and was directing his anger at me for something, and I did not understand why. With red face and growling, we tried our best to communicate with his broken English and my English with my best French language accent, but we were getting nowhere. I just stood there as my new friend spoke calmly in the French language to him, and I watched as he gradually became more calm and steady. I had no idea what they where saying to each other, but it did not matter. It was working. When I looked in his eyes when she was done speaking to him, I said in my most sincere tone of voice, in a few of the only French words I know, “Seul regret.” He said, “No Sharon, it is not your fault.” Whatever she had said to him, it worked.
As you walk along into the ancient city of Arles , you see tall buildings, most built of stone but covered with stucco, lining the narrow streets, then, when you look up, you see dark orange thick tile roofs against a striking pthalo blue sky. Sidewalk cafe’s are throughout and a welcome site to sit and have a cup of coffee and perhaps use a restroom. One such “le toilet” was in the basement of the building that could have been the original Roman room for such a purpose. I tried not to look around, found a light however dim, and hurriedly did what I came to do before sprinting back up the stone stairs to the coffee bar, feeling like I was running from something that was surely waiting to grab me and pull me back down to that dreadful place. Seriously, it was very dark down there, and I think probably ancient spirits love hanging out in places like that.
The ruins of Roman civilization are everywhere. In Roman times the city of Arles was home to over 500,000 people. Today a mere 50,000. Aqueducts that once carried water for miles from mountain hilltops to the city are a marvel of engineering and stand today next to modern roads. The huge ancient Roman amphitheater in the center of the oldest part of the city, built in 90 A.D. could hold 20,000 spectators and has been partially renovated and is a beautiful site that is still used today for sporting events. Bull fighting, a sport that historically was done in the city, is now called Bull Games, a much less violent version of the sport where “matadors” attempt to put rings on the bulls horns. After a morning of painting, shopping, and a wonderful lunch in a private courtyard restaurant in the bustling area of the city called the “Forum,” we headed back to the van and all thought how wonderful the pool was going to feel when we arrived back at the accommodations. But where was Bob? He had not shown up at the specified meeting time and I was getting concerned. Bob was our most mature artist guest to join us on this trip, who from the start had a glint in his eye that made me believe he was up to something, and most everyone else agreed he looked a lot like Clint Eastwood. After spreading out into the city in search of him, he came walking up where we had agreed to meet hours earlier, but very late in the now hot afternoon. Everyone was relieved to see him, and after returning the short drive back to our accommodations, and we finally headed to the pool. Although I was very upset with him, that wonderful glint in his eyes and his statement to me that he had just been “exploring”, made me smile and glad that he was happily doing what I want everyone to do who joins me one one of these adventures, explore!
When the guests had left and I had time to fill in the last few pages of my old travel diary, I realized how much I loved this place called Arles, France. Van Gogh settled to paint there through all of his insane moments of his creative life. Throughout the city are markers to show where paintings he completed during his lifetime were painted. I did several paintings there, and so did my guests. We shared the joy of creating in a place that has so much history and beauty within it to explore. In the next few years I will be returning to Arles. If you would like to be included on the list of people interested in joining me there, please send me a note.
As I retire my worn out, filled up, old diary I must travel again next week, this time in the states. I am heading from my home in Tennessee to Colorado to participate in a plein-air painting event in the Rocky Mountains. With pat-downs in the airport, plastic tasting airline food, and cramped uncomfortable seating, it is still my favorite way to get there. In just a matter of hours, I will arrive at some far flung destination. Perhaps I will see you there!
Come, my friends,
Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.
Ulysses. Alfred Lord Tennyson